A Red Deer woman says women across the country should take note of a recent ruling from the Alberta Court of Appeal that sets limits on how long an ex-husband has to pay spousal support.
Jean Shields, 45, stayed at home to raise her two daughters during her 15-year marriage. After her divorce, a judge ordered her ex-husband, Ken Shields, to pay her $1,000 a month in ongoing spousal support retroactive to September 2001.
'You better be able to stay at home and then when it doesn't work out, you better get out there, and even though you managed to miss 10 years of being in a workforce.' —Jean Shields
Jean Shields was a retail clerk before she got married, and now works full-time in a meat-packing plant earning $16 an hour. Her former spouse runs an oilfield company and earns about $132,000 a year.
This June, Ken Shields successfully appealed the spousal support order, arguing that Jean was adequately compensated through equal division of property and a lump sum of $17,700, to which they both agreed.
The appeal court justices limited the original order of indefinite payments to eight years, beginning from the day the marriage broke down.
They said the "chambers judge erred … in ordering spousal support of indefinite duration when a reasonable limitation on the duration of the spousal support was warranted."
The appeal court pointed out that the mother was only 34 years old at the time of the separation, and that eight years of spousal support is a "realistic time frame for the mother to be compensated for the economic disadvantage she sustained and to allow her to re-enter the job market in order to earn income leading toward financial self-sufficiency."
Ruling discourages homemakers, says lawyer
Jean Shields says the ruling isn't fair, and believes it sends the message that the work stay-at-home mothers do has little value.
"Just tells us females that you can do it all," she told CBC News on Monday. "You better be able to stay at home and then when it doesn't work out, you better get out there, and even though you managed to miss 10 years of being in a workforce."
Shields says she didn't have time to focus on a career while raising two kids.
Kevin Hannah, her lawyer, said the decision, which instructs lower courts in Alberta, is a setback for homemakers.
"If I read this decision of the Court of Appeal, I would be very reluctant to put myself in the position of being primarily responsible for the home and kids," he said.
But lawyer Dan Colborne, who represented Ken Shields, said the ruling doesn't say homemakers are not entitled to support, but it does state that those payments will not go on forever.
"Look, we're not going to simply rubber-stamp spousal support indefinitely, particularly if you're of good health [and] you're fairly young," he said of the decision.
Jean Shields said she wants to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, but she doesn't have enough money to fund the application.